Update Open Meetings Law for People With Disabilities in Final Budget


Reinvent Albany supports the Open Meetings Law improvements proposed by the Governor and expanded by the Senate in the state budget (Part X of the TED Article VII legislation). We ask that the final state budget agreement update the Open Meetings Law to provide greater flexibility for people with disabilities. 

Major changes were made in 2022 to New York’s Open Meetings Law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing government bodies across the state to hold hybrid meetings where public officials can meet remotely and in person. The law attempted to strike a compromise between the accessibility of remote meetings and the accountability provided with in-person meetings. (See Reinvent Albany’s summary of the changes to the law, including how it aligned with our recommendations for hybrid meetings.)

As government bodies have begun implementing the law, however, there have been concerns that it is too restrictive for people with disabilities. The in-person quorum requirement may also need to be updated, as some bodies are finding it difficult to reach a quorum

Updating the Open Meetings Law Regarding Disability
The Governor proposed in the executive budget that public bodies organized for the express purpose of performing a governmental function regarding issues related to disabilities be able to meet entirely remotely. If this provision is used, the public must be able to view or listen to the proceeding, and the meetings are to be recorded and later transcribed.

The Senate clarified and expanded the Governor’s proposal in its one-house proposal, while the Assembly omitted it. The Senate’s amendments pegged the provision to the definition of disability in subdivision 21 of section 292 of the Executive Law. The proposal would also allow individuals with disabilities to be counted toward a quorum for all public bodies when participating remotely in public meetings. Currently, only members of public bodies attending in person can count toward a quorum.

These proposals are sensible short-term fixes that will improve the law to address known difficulties with implementation, while still requiring in-person or hybrid meetings for most government bodies. 

Further Improvements Needed in 2024
We urge the Governor and Legislature to consider further changes to the law in 2024, following receipt of the report from the Committee on Open Government reviewing implementation of the 2022 law. The law will sunset on July 1, 2024, after the report is released.

Reinvent Albany and other groups jointly recommended that either: (1) the presiding officer or (2) a quorum of members be required to be in person for hybrid meetings. In practice, some bodies have cited local emergency orders to circumvent the quorum requirements, or are simply choosing to meet fully remotely in violation of the law. 

Relaxing the in-person requirement by only requiring the presiding officer to be in person would help to ensure that more bodies in practice hold hybrid meetings. In practice, this will help ensure that public bodies are meeting the spirit and letter of the Open Meetings Law.